For pubs up and down the country, the past year has been an unquestionably difficult and testing period.

With many venues now preparing to reopen next month, it is a time for reflection for many of our region's popular staples.

In the case of landlords Beki Bowles and Tom McMaster, their tenure behind the bar at the Drovers Rest Inn in Monkhill has been one beset with unprecedented challenges since September.

"It's been tough," Beki admits.

"We only took over the pub in September and so our six month anniversary came this month. In that time, we've only been able to do ten weeks of actual trading in the pub."

"With things like restrictions, rule of six and substantial meals, our capacity was reduced by at least forty per-cent during those months.

Beki explains that the past six months have been especially difficult financially.

"We were very close to not having enough money to continue. The grants we received did help, of course, but often they wouldn't amount to anything more than what would sometimes be a night's takings. As a result, while it's great to have that injection, clearly it isn't sustainable.

"It's not just the pubs, the whole chain of businesses who are involved with our sector such as brewers have struggled. It's industry wide.

"We've started doing a takeaway bakery and 'dog house' hot dogs nights over the weekends. It's not enough to pay the bills but it keeps us going and in the public eye.

"It's nice for us that we haven't just completely been sat in a lonely pub!"

The venue will be opening on Tuesday April 13 in line with the Government's roadmap.

"The local parish council have been generous enough to give us a marquee which is normally used for the beer festival here for April," Beki reveals.

"This means we will be able to open up for customers to sit out.

"We'll be serving our 'Dog House' menu which includes the hot dogs and loaded fries which have proved popular. We're also introducing a beer tapas menu with a nod to the continent and off the back of how popular the substantial snacks were during previous times in the pandemic.

"The month we have outside, we're not going to be doing three course meals! We don't imagine that's what people want.

"One thing that won't change next month is that people will be desperate to be sociable. We're really lucky that we have had a really good following and support."

"The maths of ten weeks trading out of six month is never going to be great but we're really lucky that we have had a really good following and support from locals."

Becki now feels that pubs that are able to open owe it to the wider industry to ensure that the reopening of venues proves successful both in terms of safety and takings.

"I do feel that us pubs that are are able to open next month, we have a responsibility in this next month that we are responsible and adhere to guidelines, alongside the customers. If we can get it right for this first month, then the pubs that only operate inside will be able to benefit quicker."

For her, the emphasis now is on re-uniting the community following this strange and disconcerting past year.

"Our staff are desperate to be back and I know our customers can't wait. Pubs are a hub for communities, particularly for those who are living on their own or just need a catch up with friends. Coming to the pub is critical for some people.

"People are looking forward to experiencing the little things that make a big difference, seeing friends, sitting in a beer garden and not having to sit on Zoom!

"The fact we can offer that soon is exciting. It's about community."